Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law

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The Supreme Court reversed in part and affirmed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment to Plaintiffs that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) by issuing a wastewater discharge permit for a “big box” retail merchandise store. DEQ appealed. Intervenors and current owners of the site (Landowners) joined the appeal and also appealed the district court’s summary judgment that MEPA requires DEQ to identify the owner or operator of the contemplated retail store. The Supreme Court held (1) the district court erred in concluding that DEQ violated MPEA, in contravention of Admin. R. M. 17.4.609(3)(d) and (e), by failing to further consider the environmental impacts of the construction and operation of the facility other than water quality impacts and impacts of the related construction of the required wastewater treatment system; and (2) the district court correctly concluded that DEQ must identify and disclose the actual contemplated owner or operator of the facility for which the applicant seeks the subject wastewater discharge permit. View "Bitterrooters for Planning, Inc. v. Montana Department of Environmental Quality" on Justia Law

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J.S. challenged her involuntary commitment to the Montana State Hospital (MSH). The only issue J.S. raised on appeal waswhether she was denied the effective assistance of counsel. J.S. suffered from bipolar disorder. She exhibited signs of psychosis and delusions after being “clipped” by a car and hit by the car’s mirror. She sustained several cuts and abrasions. Less than a month after being hit by a car, J.S. was taken to the emergency room for a severe cut on her leg that was untreated. J.S. was unable to communicate due to her extreme level of psychosis and delusional thinking. She was paranoid, irritable, and unable to consent to voluntary treatment. The cuts were dead tissue, which if not treated correctly, could have lead to the loss of the limb. Treatment of the wound required J.S. to change the dressings twice a day and take two antibiotics, one of which J.S. had to take four times a day and the other two times a day. J.S. would need to maintain supplies, and health officials were concerned, due to her presenting mental condition, J.S. would be unable to care for herself. The State sought to involuntarily commit J.S. to MSH. The district court ordered the commitment, and J.S. appealed, raising only an ineffective-assistance claim, rather than challenge the commitment itself. The Montana Supreme Court found no Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel for a civil commitment proceeding, and as such, rejected J.S.’ claim. The order of commitment was affirmed. View "Matter of J.S." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court entered after a jury concluded that Defendant violated Montana campaign finance and practices laws during his 2010 primary campaign for Senate District 35. The district court trebled the verdict amount and entered judgment in the amount of $68,232.58. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Commissioner of Political Practices satisfied the statutory procedures for filing a judicial action against Defendant; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant’s motions in limine to exclude two witnesses from testifying as experts; (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s motion for a new trial; and (4) the district court acted within its discretion in trebling the verdict amount. View "Commissioner of Political Practices for State of Montana v. Wittich" on Justia Law

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Todd Carlson, who began construction on a detached garage on his property in a subdivision without first obtaining a zoning compliance permit, requested a variance from the Yellowstone County Board of Adjustment. The board denied the variance request, noting that Carlson had not done his due diligence and had carelessly disregarded zoning regulations. The district court upheld the Board’s decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court properly declined to second-guess the Board’s discretionary determinations and did not abuse its discretion in affirming the Board’s denial of Carlson’s variance request. View "Carlson v. Yellowstone County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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The Clark Fork Coalition and four individuals (collectively, the Coalition) challenged the validity of an administrative rule promulgated by the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation concerning groundwater appropriations exempt from permitting requirements. The district court invalidated the rule, and the Supreme Court affirmed. The Coalition moved for fees under the private attorney general doctrine. The district court granted the motion, concluding that the private attorney general doctrine applied because the Coalition vindicated important constitutional interests. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Coalition failed to show that the litigation vindicated constitutional interests, and therefore, the district court abused its discretion in concluding that the Coalition could recover fees under the private attorney general doctrine. View "Clark Fork Coalition v. Tubbs" on Justia Law

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Dawn McGee, who was receiving public assistance in the form of SNAP benefits, and Helge Naber were an unmarried couple living together with their five collective children. When the Department of Health and Human Services learned that Naber was living with McGee it sent McGee a notice requesting income information for Naber. McGee did not send the requested information, and the Department terminated McGee’s benefits. The Board of Public Assistance and district court upheld the Department’s determination. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the Department was required to terminate McGee’s SNAP benefits when the household, including Naber, refused to provide the income information that the Department requested. View "McGee v. State Department of Public Health & Human Services" on Justia Law

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After the Montana Department of Justice informed employees of the Deer Lodge office of the Department’s Title and Registration Bureau (TRB) that the office would be formally closed, Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging violations of the public’s rights to know and participate. Plaintiffs ultimately sought an order setting aside the Department’s decision to close the TRB office. The district court entered judgment in favor of the Department. Plaintiffs appealed but did not move to stay the district court’s judgment, and the Department relocated the TRB functions to its Helena offices. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, holding that Plaintiffs’ claims were moot because the circumstances of this case precluded effective relief that would meaningfully remedy the department’s alleged disregard of the public notice and participation requirements of Title 2, chapter 3, Mont. Code Ann. View "City of Deer Lodge v. Fox" on Justia Law

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The Montana Public Service Commission, which requires that certain regulated telecommunications companies publicly disclose the salary information of their executive or managerial employees earning more than $100,000 per year, denied the motions for protective orders filed by Southern Montana Telephone Company and Lincoln Telephone Company to keep the salary information confidential. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Commission’s “rubric,” by which the Commission judged companies’ motions for protective orders of employee compensation information, constituted a de facto rule within the meaning of the Montana Administrative Procedure Act (MAPA) and that the Commission was obligated to comply with MAPA’s rulemaking procedures before implementing the rubric. View "Southern Montana Lincoln Telephone Co. v. Montana Public Service Commission" on Justia Law

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Allen Longsoldier, Jr., an eighteen-year-old Native American, died as a result of alcohol withdrawal while in custody at the Hill County Detention Center after he was arrested by Blaine County authorities. Longsoldier’s estate filed a claim against Blaine and Hill Counties with the Montana Human Rights Bureau alleging that the Counties discriminated against Longsoldier because of his race and his disability - alcoholism. A hearing officer concluded that the Counties had not illegally discriminated against Longsoldier. The Human Rights Commission found clear error in the hearing officer’s findings of fact and concluded that the Counties had discriminated against Longsoldier. Presiding Judge Jeffrey Sherlock with the district court reversed the Commission’s decision and reinstated the hearing officer’s order as the final agency decision. On the Estate’s motion to alter or amend, Judge James Reynolds, who had assumed jurisdiction of the case, found that Judge Sherlock had committed a “manifest error of law” by fashioning an improper remedy. The Supreme Court affirmed Judge Sherlock’s order and reversed Judge Reynold’s order, holding (1) Judge Sherlock correctly concluded that the Commission improperly modified the Hearing Officer’s findings; and (2) Judge Reynolds incorrectly concluded that Judge Sherlock erred as a matter of law by reinstating the hearing officer’s decision as the final agency decision. View "Blaine County v. Stricker" on Justia Law

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In Montana’s ongoing water rights claims adjudication proceedings, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed six water right claims related to one natural pothole and five reservoirs. The water sources were located wholly or partially on federal land. The BLM claimed the right to use each source for stock watering by its grazing permittees and for wildlife. Certain objectors (Objectors) raised objections to each claim, arguing that the BLM did not perfect any water rights. The Water Master recommended summary judgment in favor of the BLM on each claim. The Water Court granted partial summary judgment to the BLM and remanded a portion of the pothole claim to the Master for further proceedings. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the Water Court correctly found that the BLM properly perfected state law water rights in the reservoirs; and (2) The Water Court did not err in granting partial summary judgment on the pothole claim. View "Bureau of Land Management - Barthelmess" on Justia Law